More people rode the Fairmount Line when it was free, but they stopped when the fares came back

MassDOT reports that ridership on the only only-in-Boston commuter rail line increased 25% during the first of two fare-free weeks in May - and 44% the second week - but then dropped back down to normal light levels when the fares came back.

US Rep. Michael Capuano contributed roughly $50,000 from his congressional campaign coffers to fund the experiment, aimed at promoting use of the line, on which the state is spending more than $100 million to add more and new stations.

According to MassDOT:

An increase in total trips occurred during the two-week period, though this increase did not extend after the sponsored service expired. During the first week of the program, the number of weekday trips increased by approximately twenty-five percent (an additional 550 one-way trips per day or fourteen passengers per train) compared to the week before. The second week of the free-fare period showed an increase of forty-four percent from the week before the program. This is approximately 1,000 additional one-way trips per day or twenty-five more passengers per train. In the inbound direction, the additional trips were primarily in the morning peak and at 4 p.m. In the outbound direction, the additional trips were primarily in the afternoon peak and early afternoon.

Despite ridership falling back to non-free levels, advocates remained optimistic more people will eventually find their way to the commuter line, which has subway-levels fees, except at the end of the line at Readville - especially if the T increases the frequency of trains. In a statement, the Fairmount Indigo Transit Coalition said:

The Fairmount Indigo Transit Coalition appreciates Congressman Capuano’s bold step of sponsoring free rides to demonstrate the need for strong service on the Fairmount/Indigo Line. The FITC is excited about how our community mobilized to support bringing about a dramatic increase in ridership during the two weeks of sponsored free rides. We look forward to continuing to work with our elected officials, the City, and MassDOT/MBTA to improve service and make the Fairmount Line the best possible.

Report lists ways to put the Fairmount Line on the map.



Free tagging: 


Maybe if you could transfer from the CR to the Subway...

In the T's infinite wisdom they don't have a way of allowing free transfer from the CR to the rest of the system unless you have a monthly pass. So you need to pay $4.50 if you want to take the train from a Zone 1A stop and use the subway once you get to N/S Stations. It's pretty infuriating and is a big reason why people will just take the cheaper alternatives.

Remember when they launched the Charlie Cards and claimed MBTA (MBCR) conductors would "soon" have some device to let you use the cards on the train? I sure do.

Remember when they launched

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Remember when they launched the Charlie Cards and claimed MBTA (MBCR) conductors would "soon" have some device to let you use the cards on the train? I sure do.

Just one of several unfulfilled promises and claims the T made when they proposed automated fare collection. Among the others:

Buy fares at any number of retail outlets - you can also use your CharlieCard to purchase goods from those stores. That never happened once stores decided they didn't want to participate in such a program.

Significant reduction in fare evasion. The exact opposite has happened, thanks to the idiotic design of the system (both piggybacking and the 'drop your scarf, coat, etc. on the other side of the faregate to trigger the sensor for exiting passengers' motion).

Significant reduction in staffing. That never happened. Not only were collectors transferred to other positions such as CSAs, but the MBTA has actually hired additional staff to serve as CSAs.

Ability to 'deactivate' your card should it be lost or stolen, and to transfer the balance to a new card. T's response in such situations - sorry, you're SOL.

Well, reduction in *visible* staffing

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Go ahead, try to find an MBTA employee in any station. At least you used to be able to find someone
staffing the fare booth, but now that they're gone you rarely see someone in an MBTA uniform who
isn't driving a train or bus...

It seems to me that this

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It seems to me that this proves they *did* reduce staffing as a result of the Charlie system.

There used to have to be a token clerk at *every* subway entrance (except the iron maiden entrances like the ends of Central and Kendall). At all times the subway was running.

Now they can decide if a quiet entrance can be unstaffed some of the time.

It's all gonna change anyways

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It's all going to change anyways.. AFC 2.0 is going to happen. And happening sooner than you think.

My sources at the T say it's going to be everything we wished AFC 1.0 was like and MORE.


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Remember the good old days of the trusty MBTA token? I was telling my (slightly younger) boyfriend that I've been in Boston long enough to have used them.

Which made me wonder just how long we've been using Charlie cards for. Which brought me to this:

The CharlieCards can be used currently on all buses and at most subway stations. The system will be fully converted on buses and subways by Jan. 1. CharlieCards will be available for use on commuter rail lines by fall of 2007.


CR zone 1A to subway

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or vice a versa, you can use a bus/subway combo Charlie ticket or 7 day bus subway Charlie ticket. They can be used on CR trains.

Actually yup, if it's a

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Actually yup, if it's a weekly or monthly pass that's on a ticket rather than a card (so it's human-readable by the conductor).

Yes. As long as they're on

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Yes. As long as they're on the Paper ticket. The Link Pass (Monthly), 7 & 1 Day Link Passes, and Inner/Outer Express Bus passes are good through 1A- ONLY as a CharlieTicket. If on the hard card, then those can't be used on CR.

T Pass

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Even through its the same cost as the subway its a different pass. You need the Zone 1A pass to ride that train (from Fairmount). If you get on with a monthly subway pass (which is the exact same price as the 1A pass) you will need to purchase another ticket as the conductors have no way to validate the subway pass. Once they figure out a way to streamline the ticketing process ridership will go back up.

Once they figure out a way to

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Once they figure out a way to streamline the ticketing process ridership will go back up.

They had a way around that back in 2007, but unfortunately decided not to implement it.


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The odds of someone who has a Link Pass deciding to ride the Fairmount is lessened by the additional costs. The ability to use the pass most of us use would lead to a bump in usage. Greater frequency (as mentioned below) would lead to even greater usage.


as the conductors have no way to validate the subway pass.

The conductors have no real way of validating the CR passes either. They just check that they visually look OK from a distance.

I didn't know they wouldn't allow link passes to also use Zone 1A stops but I suppose that's just the sort of stupidity one would expect.

Well, since the goal of

Well, since the goal of transit not to make profit but to get people to use it instead of dangerous, polluting private vehicles, I expect the MBTA will swiftly follow the clear logic of this little experiment and make the line free permanently.

*proceeds to hold breath*


As you turn red, then blue, I appreciate your comment and the hope behind it.

Yes, I have long held that mass transit should be fare-less. Mike Dukakis as Governor and later as transit activist debated this a few times with me at public fora, transit conferences and my podcast. He liked the sentiment but thought that riders need to pay a nominal fare; he suggested a dollar.

We agreed that the ideas behind mass transit were to free the streets as much as possible from air and noise pollution, from maimed pedestrians, cyclists and drivers, and from congestion. Those together would justify fare-less rides. It would be much like the monumental but often hidden subsidies drivers get and their small gas and vehicle taxes don't begin to repay the state and feds.

If the T spent its millions and billions on safety, maintenance, and cleaning, folks would get what they want from mass transit — fast, safe, clean, reliable service. That in turn would inspire greater ridership and all those obvious benefits.

Great Idea

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If one simply taxed all state residents approximately $300/year that would cover the MBTA annual budget, thus negating the need for any fares. Plus they could make a small amount of revenue still from ad sales and such. This would be an ideal solution, and $300/year is, I believe, less than many people have to spend now on passes.

Yeah, but good luck making

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Yeah, but good luck making that case to the people of Springfield, New Bedford, North Adams, or anywhere else in the state where people would have to pay but wouldn't receive any direct, tangible benefit.

Please don't tax me even more for the MBTA

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Make driving *more miserable* than public transit.

Any dollars-based incentive (not totally scaled) to do public transit rather than drive is just a handout to the wealthy. The reason is the dollars is a relatively small amount to them, but the incentive takes more less-wealthy people's cars off the roads, so... the wealthy are less miserable when they drive.

But wealthy people hate sitting in traffic about as much as non-wealthy people do.

Wait until wealthy people have to ride the bus to get to their wealthy people appointments on time. Then you'll see real pressure on legislators to make the MBTA reliable and more pleasant.

I wouldn't start hating on

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I wouldn't start hating on all wealthy people. Most of those wealthy people got wealthy from wanting to learn in school, working hard , and being smart with the money they earned. Herb Chambers started as a repairman from Dorchester. I know some deep-pocketed people who do some awesome volunteer work and philanthropy work. And you know what? To look at them you'd never know they were wealthy. A wealthy person helped me get clean and sober.


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Most wealthy people inherited their money.

Dear Capuano - Read the Nelson Nygaard Fairmount Report

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Afterwards: with a new understanding of ridership demand

Drop the latest Medford-Somerville Green Line Extension bid

Distribute resources based on RIDERSHIP

Meaning 1. Fairmount 2. Silver 3. 39 + Existing GL, and on

GLX Medford-Somerville will come up around number 40-45, When you hit 40 on the list, then pursue the GLX-M-S again

Frequency Is Key

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I have said this before and I will say it again: Don't send a locomotive to a subway train's job.

People along the Fairmount Line know it's there. Pretty hard to not see, hear or otherwise notice a 3000 H.P. diesel locomotive hauling several coaches through your neighborhood. The number one comment I hear from friends living in the area is that it isn't frequent enough. People who are used to taking the Red Line, Orange Line and local buses typically don't plan their lives around specific trips in a timetable. They walk down to the bus stop and hope the bus shows up. Preferably soon. I highly doubt there is anyone who rides, say, the Routes 22, 23 or 28 and plans each morning to catch the specific bus due at 8:17AM.

Infrequent routes in the area (i.e. Route 14) and routes with greatly diminished service during certain parts of the day (i.e. Route 19 midday, Route 16 nights) are probably the only exceptions to this behavior. But most of these people are not used to applying that logic to a train line. After all: Who would consult the Red Line schedule? If someone wanted to go by the unabridged Red Line timetable they would just find it to be 50+ pages of suggestions.

Is it that shocking to the T that people are reluctant to ride a train which, if you just miss one, you must then wait 57 minutes for the next one?

DMUs are a much better fit for the line. They are designed to be more efficient on lines with closely-spaced stops; turnaround time is quicker at terminals and (most importantly) they are perceived to be more rapid transit-like in the minds of the riding public. The Fairmount Line is going to continue to be the low-ridership stepchild of the MBTA Commuter Rail system as long as the T and MADOT keep trying to force it to be something it isn't.

Can't agree more

I live within walking distance of a stop and take it once in a while ( a few times a month). I have actually started taking the providence line more often since the schedule is better for getting to work at 9 and it stops at back bay station and is a shorter ride, even though it costs three times as much. I do usually take an uber or lyft home though since I don't want to be on their schedule or have to get to south station or back bay. And I won't be voting for Baker for reellection since he cancelled the DMUs for the line due to only having on possible bidder.

I agree with you 100% about

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I agree with you 100% about everything except the last paragraph.

How do DMUs have a quicker turnaround time? How are they more efficient?

The T can already turn a set in as little as 10 minutes, most of which is spent performing the required brake test and either changing crews or letting the crew have a restroom break. DMUs still require the same brake test, and still employ the same crew, who are still human. The only way I can see DMUs shortening turnaround time at all is cutting 30 seconds off of walking the length of the train to change ends.

They are slightly more fuel-efficient than a full locomotive-hauled trainset for low passenger volumes, due to their smaller, less-powerful engines (which also means they'll likely average the same running time - they're smaller and lighter but proportionally less powerful). Locomotive-hauled trainsets generally only become more efficient when you lash up more than 2 DMUs together. But you can't look at fuel efficiency in isolation - you have to look at the full picture, and those fuel efficiency savings are more than offset by the increased maintenance costs of not having a uniform fleet - additional parts to stock, additional training for mechanics, and the increased maintenance and inspection costs that come from each DMU having its own engine and legally being considered a locomotive. Several small engines means more failure points than one large engine, and legally being locomotives means more time spent in the shop for inspections.

Which brings us to public perception - that's the only benefit DMUs would really have. They look more suited to the line. And public perception alone is not a sound basis for spending a large sum of money.

The biggest benefits for the Fairmount Line come from getting it out of the commuter rail system, and into the rapid transit system, not from changing what rolling stock uses it.

Do you work for the Conservation Law Foundation?

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Your argument is nearly identical to theirs. When the City of Somerville mentioned they were willing to look at DMUs as an alternative to the Green Line Extension, the CL Foundation blew their stack. Is this DTP @ The CLF?

No, I have no affiliation

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No, I have no affiliation with the CLF.

I just live in Somerville and am knowledgeable about railroads, and sick of hearing DMUs trumpeted as a panacea for all of Boston's transportation woes. It is rather annoying though that every time I point out actual issues and questions to be answered, they're only met with accusations like this.

You nailed it. The state

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You nailed it. The state needs to open up negotiations again with Sonoma-Marin; Nippon. With MassDOT's new sole source vehicle policy after the Red & Orange contract, Stephanie Pollack's one DMU bidder excuse is dead. The FRA compliant vehicles match the existing Fairmount platforms, are far more efficient than the existing locomotives, and will add much needed frequency to the line